Sex steroids are fat soluble compounds that are important in reproduction, sexual function, and sexual development. The endocrine glands are responsible for the production of sex steroids in both men and women. In most human beings, sex steroids are secreted over the course of an entire lifetime, though the levels of production and release often vary. For example, the level of production often increases when a person reaches puberty and then declines in conjunction with old age.
Though both females and males produce sex steroids, females typically produce mostly estrogen and progesterone. Males, on the other hand, usually produce testosterone and other androgens, which are hormones that control characteristics that are primarily masculine. Interestingly, females also have androgens and males have estrogen in their bodies. Androgens that are produced in the female body usually convert to estrogens. Likewise, some of a male’s androgens become estrogens as well.
The processes that affect the production of these steroids are both complicated and interesting. When a human being reaches puberty, a gland in the brain makes more of a substance called gonadotropin-releasing hormone. In turn, the increased production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone causes the pituitary gland to release hormones that are critical to the production of sex steroids. These hormones are referred to as follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone. The release of these hormones stimulates the production of these steroids in both males and females.
The estrogens the female body produces play important roles in preparing the body for ovulation and pregnancy. They also influence the development of female sex characteristics, including breast growth and the development of the female pelvis. Estrogens even have a role in how fat and muscle is distributed in the female body. Progesterone is critical in sustaining a pregnancy and affects conditions inside the uterus.
Male production of testosterone and androsterone, both of which are androgens, occurs in the testes. Testosterone is critical for sperm formation. As with estrogens influencing the development of female characteristics, androgens influence male characteristics. For example, they influence the growth of muscle as well as body hair and the deeper voices that are typical in males. They also influence male sex organ development.
Sex steroids are naturally occurring in the human body, but they may be used in medical treatments as well. For example, doctors may use them in the treatment of various types of cancer. They may also prove helpful for treating menopause symptoms. In fact, these hormones may even help in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis.